What better place to have lunch than a restaurant accused of racism?
SaharaReporters visited Shi Shi Chinese restaurant on Thursday due to multiple allegations of racism towards Nigerian visitors to the restaurant, located at 21B, Emina Crescent, off Toyin Street, Ikeja, Lagos.
On arriving Shi Shi, tucked away in a residential area in Ikeja, we approached the gate.
“Good afternoon,” we called out to the grumpy and irritated-looking security guard.
“Who did you come to see?” he queried. Taken aback by the question, the SaharaReporters correspondent asked: “Is this not a restaurant?”
The security guard looked as if he was contemplating a response, but seemed to think twice about it and stepped back.
The team proceeded (we came disguised as a company of people who had come to hang out).
The entrance smelt of something funny, but the source of the smell was not readily visible. There was a show glass displaying what looked like bags made of real leather. We made our way into the dimly-lit restaurant. Inside, we approached the front desk, which had a stern-looking female Chinese national at the register (probably trying to reconcile the books). She barely looked up, save for the Nigerian attendants/waiters who looked completely bewildered and almost shocked that we were standing there.
In the sitting area, two Asian men were seated, looking on at us. A member of the team turned back and requested with an assertive voice: “Can I see your menu?” The announcement was to deflect from our main mission there.
We were ushered to a seat, five of us on a round table overlooking a transparent glass and an outdoor sitting area. As the menu arrived, so did about three waiters, circling for no reason, with one making as if she wanted to serve tea, all the while peeking into our phones.
As we awaited our moderately-priced fried rice and spaghetti, we made small talk, sipping the tea. By now, apart from the waiters who looked aloof and were now stationed at strategic points in the restaurant, the stern-looking Chinese lady behind the counter was now sitting close by in the restaurant.
She beckoned to another lady (Chinese) and spoke something to her in their language, while motioning at us. The new lady in the most inconspicuous manner (even for an amateur) started taking photos of us and recording. I caught her glance and she tried to look away while concealing her phone. Sigh.
We continued to have conversations and our food began to arrive, the Chinese fried rice first.
In a bid to what I perceive as remedying our awkward ‘glance lock’, ‘Camera lady’ approached our table and offered to teach us how to use chopsticks.
Please note: while I was preoccupied with documenting our experience with a secret recorder, the team noticed that the two Asian men who were seated and had made their orders “looked disgusted, got up and made their way into one of the many rooms” in the restaurant.
The Show Must Go On
And so it began, the overly choreographed friendliness, niceness, half-smiles and forced response to questions. Ya ya (camera lady) was now tutoring us on how to use the chopsticks. A member of the team quickly requested a selfie and with concealed reluctance, she proceeded and everyone was obliged, including me.
I wondered if they took selfies with all their guests or if it was a curated PR move? Soon after, we had to leave and requested takeaway packs for what was left off our spaghetti and fried rice (God forbid it wastes). As we were about to leave, a woman clad in black (Chinese) appeared from one of the many doors.
She walked up to us and said “hello” and stayed there. A member of the team asked for her name and she said Si Si and introduced herself as the manager of the place. One member of the team queried if “everyone is welcome here?” to which she simply said “yes”.
She then proceeded to accompanying us out the front door (again, what establishment has its manager see customers to the door?). As we exited the building, I noticed the security guard (seemed like a Nigerian from his looks) looked jittery. I couldn’t let it go, so I went back to take a photo in front of the building. How else would we prove we came to eat racist spaghetti?
It turned out the manager was watching from the glass window I described earlier; she hadn’t anticipated our abrupt return for a photo.
More suspicious was the security guard, who suggested I use a wall with some flower pots for the photo as opposed to standing by the entrance which had the name of the establishment carved into it.
In the End
From our findings, interaction with staff and management, we couln’t help thinking that Shi Shi resturant is indeed racist, hence the security guard’s inquiry about who we were looking for in a place listed as a public restaurant even on Google. There was also the issue of the staff recording a video of us, the policing while in the restaurant and the manager accompanying us out. Would they have done all that if we were Chinese?
In the restaurant’s bid to gloss this over, it ended us awarding us an exaggerated reception.